You can easily land on the wrong side of the law if you buy a silencer blindly. It’s why familiarizing yourself with the different laws governing the purchase and ownership of these gun accessories in the United States is so crucial.
As per federal law, consumers have to apply for a license if they want to purchase a silencer. The thing is that this process may take more than one year, and most Americans aren’t patient enough to wait.
But in this case, a shortcut is often the wrong way.
Read on as we delve into the nitty-gritty of gun silencer laws.
Gun Silencer Laws by State
Although the Second Amendment allows Americans to own a firearm, different states have different laws regulating firearms accessories, including silencers.
While a handful of states have loosened their laws in recent years, that doesn’t make the process simple — in any way.
Case in point: The approval process for owning a gun can take about 20 minutes, and it can take up to nine or ten months before you can get your hands on a silencer.
Possessing a silencer is legal, but you have to abide by the rules to enjoy the benefits that come with owning one. Irrespective of where you live, there are general rules that apply in all states. These laws provide an overview of what you require when purchasing or owning a gun silencer.
The general state laws are as follows:
- You must be 21 years or older.
- You must be a citizen of the United States.
- You must legally be able to purchase and own the firearm.
- You must pass a background check.
- You must mail or fax fingerprints and a photo to the ATF.
- You must pay a one-time transfer tax of $200z
- You must be in one of the states that allow people to own a silencer
That said, some general laws are subjected to change by any state at any time. These include as follows:
- A person should be at least 18 years old to purchase a silencer or suppressor from another individual.
- A person should be at least 18 years old to possess a suppressor if they are a member of an organization or a beneficiary of a trust.
As mentioned previously, one of the few ways you can purchase or own a silencer is when you live in a state that supports this action. Currently, 42 states allow private ownership of silencers for personal purposes.
The United States comprises 50 states, but eight deem it illegal to purchase, own, or use suppressors. These states include Hawaii, California, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Delaware, Illinois, and Massachusetts.
If your state supports owning a silencer, make sure you guarantee to use it for legitimate purposes to avoid facing the consequences in a court of law. Hunters are the leading group of individuals who apply to own suppressors in all the 42 states where it’s legal to purchase a silencer.
Keep in mind that Vermont and Connecticut haven’t made suppressors legal for hunting.
Silencer vs. Suppressors — What’s the Difference?
There have been heated debates in the gun world on whether a silencer and suppressor are the same.
Many people argue that a suppressor does more of eliminating muzzle flash while a silencer reduces sound. The truth is that both of them serve the same purpose. In other words, you can use both the names interchangeably.
Despite that, many folks still express confusion on how products with different terms can do the same thing, and it’s actually a legitimate question.
Let’s have a look at why we have two names instead of one.
The confusion began decades ago after Hiram Percy Maxim, the inventor of the suppressor, named it the Maxim Silencer. While the marketing campaign did earn him a lot of fame, any true firearm enthusiast knows that silencers aren’t actually silent.
A few people argue that a silencer does indeed reduce the sound. But the thing is that no gun escapes making some noise, which led to the creation of the more technical term: the suppressor.
In reality, silencers don’t silence firearms; instead, they suppress the sound. If you’ve seen people use a silencer or if you’ve used one, you can attest to the fact that the process isn’t entirely silent.
Technically speaking, a suppressor is definitely the more accurate term, although both devices can reduce the sound made from a gun.
Besides suppressing sound, some people claim to use a suppressor for doing other roles like increasing accuracy, reducing blowback, and in some scenarios, decreasing flash. Arguably, this is the main reason behind the confusion, especially with the perception of it being better than a silencer.
The truth is that none is better than the other. It’s just that each name originates at a different time in American marketing and history. When properly installed or attached, both the suppressor and silencer improve accuracy.
While you can use both terms as you desire, you can tailor your terminology depending on the crowd. For instance, the military personnel will prefer the term suppressor because it accurately mirrors the function of the attachment. On the other hand, shooting range visitors or hunters often use the name silencer.
Either way, there’s no difference in terms of efficiency, functionality, or sound suppression between the two.
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The History of Silencers
Silencers are covered under the National Firearms Act of 1934. It’s the same law that governs short-barreled rifles, machine guns, and short-barreled shotguns.
Silencers have gained massive popularity since Hiram Percy Maxim invented the first commercialized silencer. Interestingly, Percy is the son of Hiram Stephen Maxim, the man who created the Maxim machine gun, proving that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Hiram P. Maxim worked for several companies before forming his company in 1908, where he formulated how to make firearms quieter. Hiram named his product the ‘Maxim Silencer,’ which was first marketed in 1909 to people who intended to enhance their shooting experience.
Silencers had virtually vanished from the civilian market. They resurfaced much later in World War II.
Being the great businessman he is, Maxim took advantage of the resurfacing, where he founded the Maxim Silencers, Inc. company in 1992. A century later, the company still stands out as the leading silencer company, properly defining Hiram’s fantastic success.
Hiram created the Maxim Silencer in every rifle caliber, ensuring people that the silencer was suitable for all riflemen, from .22 to .45. While it isn’t a silencer as the name suggests, it does help beginners communicate with the instructor and offer a safe hearing level. Hunters can also use for shooting with greater precision.
How Do Silencers & Suppressors Work?
Silencers, also referred to as suppressors, are misunderstood for their portrayal in action movies and video games.
Some imagine it’s all about the ‘pew’ sound, but there’s so much more to that. I’d also like to point out that some don’t make a weapon particularly quiet in most cases.
Despite all the misunderstandings, your suppressor or silencer is a simple tool containing a series of baffles or barriers. Imagine untying the end of a balloon rather than popping it with a pin to reduce noise.
Well, that’s the magical concept behind a silencer or suppressor.
When firing a gun, the gunpowder ignited behind the bullet generates a high-pressure of hot gas, pushing the bullet down and causing intense noise.
The explosive force is detrimental to shooters in many ways, especially hunters who need to adopt a stealthier approach to not startle the animals. Let’s also not forget that repeated exposure to these noises may cause hearing loss.
A suppressor or silencer combats such issues by dampening the explosive crack. They have a considerable volume compared to the barrel — about 20 or 30 times greater. Both silencers and suppressors help slow down the release of propellant gases, transforming some noise energy into heat.
Plus, while suppressors have unique designs, they are enclosed in a metal case.
The internal partitions spur the combustion process to complete by letting any unburnt powder burn off and reduce muzzle flash. The longer the hot gas is contained, the cooler it gets. As the gas is under less pressure before escaping the silencer, the process becomes quieter.
Silencers work by reducing the velocity and pressure of the gas behind your bullet. By the time it reaches the atmosphere, the vibration created gets extended and flattened. An effective silencer or suppressor should have a soft thump after discharge instead of the usual high crack.
Taming down the muzzle blast decreases both sound and recoil so they can exit the chamber at a quieter speed.
It’s worth noting that a bullet travels at supersonic speeds, so it creates sonic booms as it travels. Plus, the silencer and suppressor can only eliminate the uncorking sound and not the sound of the bullet’s flight.
Where Can You Buy Silencers & Suppressors?
Buying a silencer and suppressor can be one of the most daunting processes. Dealing with the government and the ever-changing laws is enough to dishearten even the most savviest shooting enthusiast.
Fortunately, a few silencer shops have collaborated with the Liberty Firearms Institute to make the process painless and convenient.
Today, you’ll find many silencer shops offering an extensive assortment of silencers and suppressors for your firearms, and the process involves a few steps. There are several unique options for shoppers, one of them being the Silencer Central.
Let's have a look at a few of them.
Silencer Central is one of the most reliable places you can purchase your silencer or suppressor since it’s designed with ease.
Besides helping you get started via chats, phone calls, and offering personal advice, they have a wide range of versatile suppressors. You already get the ATF paperwork and don't need to stumble through a tedious process for your signature.
Once your paperwork is ready, Silencer Central ships your preferred suppressor into your house. This is definitely like a dream come true for introverts who hate the thought of queuing at the sheriff's office for fingerprinting and photo taking.
Local Gun Shops
Local shops are best for one-and-done silencer shoppers intending to purchase only one NFA item.
Here, you have to do it the old-fashioned way, meaning you have to do all the paperwork and fingerprints by yourself. Some locals may offer some help with ATF's form, but if you are around one that doesn't, make sure you research the ATF process. This will help you maneuver through the process like a pro.
Online retailers like Rainier Arms and Brownells are an excellent pick for silencer shoppers.
You get access to all kinds of suppressors for different guns. The only thing you have to do is ensure you get a Special Occupational Taxpayer (SOT) or an FFL to hold and transfer the suppressor.
Another option is the S.I.D. Kiosks, which is courtesy of the Silencer Shop.